The ’90s shopping mall is an iconic typology of American architecture. But in the age of online shopping, those once-bustling food courts and anchor stores are struggling. One-third of the roughly 1,200 enclosed malls in the U.S. are dead or dying, according to a study from Georgia Tech. And filmmaker Dan Bell is there to capture everything from a shopping center’s final gasps to its structural disintegration.
Bell began “The Dead Mall Series” in 2015 after a period of professional burnout. But when he learned that his hometown mall would be shuttering, he paid it one last visit, filming as he walked through fully stocked stores devoid of human life. He started posting videos of other failing malls onto YouTube and soon discovered that his films struck a chord with viewers.
“I would get comments from people who were like, ‘There's a dead mall in my town. You should come and film it,’" Bell recounts in his recent TED talk on the series. “So I started to travel around the mid-Atlantic region filming these dead malls. Some were open. Some were abandoned. It was kind of always hard to get into the ones that were abandoned, but I somehow always found a way in.”
Bell has since visited and filmed more than 100 abandoned spaces, branching out from malls to explore dilapidated hospitals, factories, and and other buildings. He accmpanies his footage with nostalgia-soaked vaporwave music that’s oddly fitting for the ’80s and ’90s-era structures.
But don’t let the ruin porn get you down. A number of architects and cities have found ways to repurpose their formerly dead malls.